League play in the Missouri Valley Conference is about to begin Wednesday, and it has the looks of a thrilling season. Wichita State is still the favorite, but the Shockers will have much more competition than they faced last season.
Here are The Catch and Shoot’s most recent power rankings:
1. Wichita State (10-2)
Wichita State is still a clear Top 25 team, but the Shockers are no longer way better than every other school in the Valley. Wichita State has no bad losses — Utah is in the Top 25 and George Washington will contend for the Atlantic 10 title, but the team also lacks convincing wins. The Shockers’ best victories are against Seton Hall and Alabama at home.
However, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet give Wichita State by far the best trio in the conference.
2. Northern Iowa (11-1)
With Wichita State’s recent struggles, Northern Iowa appears to have a very legitimate shot at winning this year’s MVC title. The Panthers’ only loss is in double overtime to VCU, and they beat Iowa and Northwestern.
This team has been gelling offensively and solid defensively, as always.
Seth Tuttle will contend for MVC Player of the Year, and Wes Washpun has been one of the conference’s most improved players.
3. Evansville (10-2)
Evansville had high expectations after finishing 14-19 last season, and so far the Aces have delivered. With a few more favorable bounces, the Aces could even be undefeated right now. Their only losses are each by two points to Green Bay and Murray State, both favorites to win their respective conference titles.
D.J. Balentine remains an elite scorer, and Egidijus Mockevicius is turning into a double-double machine.
4. Illinois State (8-4)
Illinois State had its ups and downs in non-conference play but ended with back-to-back wins. The Redbirds have a quality win against Old Dominion and lost just one game to a sub-Top RPI 100 team (Utah State).
DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell has been one of the MVC’s top newcomers, averaging 14.1 points on 51.3% shooting, but he could be out until the end of January with a broken right hand.
5. Loyola (10-2)
Loyola has been the Valley’s biggest surprise. The Ramblers finished last in 2013-14 and did not in a single road game all year. This season, they already have three road wins and two more neutral wins en route to their best start since 2009-10.
Milton Doyle and Christian Thomas are still the leaders of this group, but several additions have helped Loyola exceed expectations early.
6. Missouri State (6-6)
Here is where the big drop off appears to occur between the conference’s top five and bottom five, although with a star like Marcus Marshall, Missouri State has a shot to move into the top group. Marshall is averaging 22.0 points on 54.5% 3-point shooting, and he is completely carrying the offensive load.
As of now, this is far and away Paul Lusk’s worst defensive team in his four years at Missouri State. The Bears’ defensive efficiency ranks No. 284 nationally.
7. Southern Illinois (7-6)
Southern Illinois found a groove from late-November to mid-December, winning six of seven games. However, none of those victories were anything special, and since then the Salukis have lost at home to New Orleans and Murray State.
8. Bradley (5-8)
Bradley has been better since Tramique Sutherland joined in the lineup with a 2-2 record in that stretch. He is one of a few talented newcomers on this Bradley squad, but the Braves are still going to have trouble avoiding the Arch Madness play-in round.
Bradley gets a home game against Southern Illinois Jan. 3, but the other five of their first six conference games could produce five quick losses: at Loyola, at Wichita State, vs. Evansville, vs. Northern Iowa, at Illinois State.
9. Indiana State (4-8)
Indiana State has not beaten a Division I team since Nov. 24. Since then, the Sycamores are 1-7 with the only win coming against Truman State. A lot of those losses have come to good teams, but the Sycamores also lost at Ball State and to Eastern Illinois and UMKC at home.
10. Drake (3-9)
It would be fairly shocking if Drake does not finish last in the Valley. The Bulldogs have only two wins against Division I competition, and they are against IUPUI and Jackson State.
The MVC has a few high-quality offenses, and Drake is going to get torched as one of the nation’s worst defensive teams.